- Associated Press - Saturday, April 4, 2015

DENVER (AP) - A steady decrease in the number of available substitute teachers across the state has many school districts getting creative with ways to recruit more temporary teachers.

The number of substitute-teacher authorizations issued each year by the Colorado Department of Education has increased in the past two years. However, the numbers have not reached the levels they were in 2011, when 6,660 were granted.

As the economy grows, it seems, the availability of subs drops.

“Through my experience, what I have noticed is there is a direct correlation: As the economy improves and jobs are more plentiful, the pool of substitutes decreases,” said Damon Smith, chief personnel officer in Aurora Public Schools.

To help fill the void quicker, Denver Public Schools moved from having monthly interview events to having them weekly.

Jefferson County Public Schools officials are suggesting the job option to student teachers already working in the district.

And two months ago, Aurora Public Schools increased pay for substitute teachers, hoping to lure more candidates.

“The main reason is to ensure consistent learning for our students,” said Robyn Fergus, human resources director for DPS. “Our students need a qualified adult to ensure the lessons are continuous and to make sure they aren’t losing any ground.”

Teachers say students suffer when a substitute isn’t found: Planning time is lost to help watch the class of an absent colleague. Many teachers think districts may need to do more.

DPS this year is piloting a model that allows a group of subs to earn more money in exchange for their commitment to work five days a week in select schools that have the most trouble filling absences.

The district says the program is working and wants to double the number of subs in that full-time pool in the next year.

This year, substitutes filled about 87 percent of Denver teacher absences, up from about 85 percent last year. Those fill rates in DPS are on the low end compared with other districts in the metro area, but they have started rising.

According to data from the Colorado Department of Education, there are 15,887 active authorized substitute teachers in the state. Some authorizations can last up to five years, but people might not be looking for substitute-teaching work during the entire span.

David George is a substitute teacher who has stuck with the work since 2008.

George, a retired finance worker who mostly subs in Brighton’s School District 27J, said he doesn’t do it for the money, but rather to have something meaningful to do.

“The ideal would be to have highly trained subs,” said Jim Baker, director of employment services in Jefferson County.

But in many schools, tensions are rising.

In one Aurora middle school, teachers say absences are going unfilled about four times a week.

“We can’t count on having consistent planning time,” said Mark Shouldice, a middle school teacher in Aurora.

Teachers across the districts say that planning time already is not enough but is necessary to collaborate with other teachers and to prepare handouts, visual aids and lessons based on student progress.

Some districts, like Aurora’s, in recent years have increased or modified how they compensate teachers during lost planning time.

Teachers, however, say the time taken away can’t be replaced.

“If asked whether we want that pay,” Shouldice said, “we would rather have our planning time.”

Karla Jones, an elementary school teacher in Jefferson County, said that’s why good substitutes are necessary.

“Having those relationships with a substitute makes it so much easier,” Jones said. “We have a couple people who are here for our school but, you know, not enough.”

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

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